I wasn’t looking forward to the 17 and a half hour train ride from Bhuj to Ajmer. The Ala Hazrat Express arrives during the early morning hours, and guaranteed, I would feel a bone-deep chill in the air, coupled with the anxiety of then getting to the bus stand, and then on to my hotel. Because the train food can be both extra spicy and unsafe, I requested my hotel to prepare a take-away vegetarian pilau (rice pilaf) and my new favorite dish, paneer burji (looks like smashed tofu in a spiced tomato sauce, but is cottage cheese). Two thin plastic spoons were packed; one broke within the first 4 bites.
Gratefully the train left midday, because I needed time to find my coach. Over the past 4 years, I have learned more and more about train travel, still many things remain a mystery. This train must be a half mile long, and I walked the platform, searching, searching. I wasn’t sure where the A-1 coach would be, so I walked the entire length, twice. I was first sent in the wrong direction, and as I walked to the other end (by now it is noon and I am sweating), a troop of 6 or 8 young men were helping. The tallest of them took my ticket, and found my coach. Another found my name on the paper roster stuck to the outside of the train. Kim Hammerrrrr, Kim Hammmerrrrr, A-19, Seat 19, 19! No HIPA privacy rules here. The door had not yet been opened, so I waited, standing in the shade. Never mind there was another paper stuck on this coach, dated today, with a Mr. Shah in seat 19. But, that paper had expired. A mystery.
I wasn’t sure the train would leave on time, but indeed it did. In this class of train, called 2 AC, I am guaranteed a bench, where I can sit cross legged or lay down, though generally in the daytime, my bunk mate above might like to sit on this lower berth. Across from me was a young, professional couple with a 10 month old boy. Cuteness overload. Though I’m not generally gooey over children, I was motivated to keep him happy (read: not crying) I learned he loved crackly paper, but moreover, he was incredibly curious about me. As time went on, he allowed me to hold him. (Squeeee!) Narendra, the father, was equally involved with the boy, and the heart melted to see the love in this family. Narendra’s delicate hands would cradle the boy’s energy field as he explored their bunk.
One of the papers I handed the boy was a torn envelope from my train booking. Garima, the boy's mother, was an electrical engineer and spoke little english, However, she managed to find me on facebook (!) and looked me up. And friended me, to boot! (Again, no HIPA rules.)
On the train, you are given 2 sheets, a brick hard pillow and a blanket. I haven’t quite managed learning how to keep the sheets in order, as I toss and turn on the hard bench at night. Because I got bed bugs from an overnight train 2 years ago, I’m a bit edgy about relaxing fully under the blanket. The bathrooms on the train are yet another experience to be told.
My friends’ alarm went off 5 minutes before mine, but I took it as a signal to begin gathering myself together, visiting the bathroom and washing my face. I pulled out my warmest jacket and sat, while the baby again stared at me. Then, he squawked loudly and reached for me, wanting me to hold him. *heartmelt* I reached for him and turned him to face his parents. I felt a tremendous gift; here was a little being who trusted me. *swooooon
I then asked Narendra if he would help me locate the bus stand, which I thought was nearby, but not.
He helped with my luggage, paid my fare of the taxi which we took together, translated for my porter fare, accompanied me to the bus, and hoisted my luggage aboard the bus.. This is how both visitors and, especially elders are treated in India. But when the rickshaw wallah realized there was not just an Indian couple, but a foreigner, the fare doubled. When we were dropped at the bus stand, the same driver said there was no Pushkar bus for 2 hours, and that he would happily drive me for 600 rupees (just under $10). I was fairly certain he was not telling the truth, so off I went, taking my chances on the local bus. It is still dark now, but we discovered a bus was leaving in just 20 minutes, and the cost for me would be under 15 cents.
Now, here I sit in a moderately warm bus, but again, the only foreigner, and the only unaccompanied woman. The ticket man accepted my ticket with a slight head wobble, and with a similar head flick, indicated when we reached my stop in Pushkar. I was still filled with the fullness of heart when I pulled my luggage off the bus. There, waiting, were 2 men ready to offer me a hotel and a rickshaw ride.
Please note, This is one of my first blog posts, and i consciously decided not to photograph the family out of respect for their privacy. The photos, therefore are slightly random.